At a Glance
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, year-round. Certain activities are permitted outside of the regular park hours (e.g. fishing, hunting where permitted). Please check with the park before your visit if you plan to be in the park before or after the posted hours.
Cost: Daily fee (honor box): $3/car for Maryland residents; $5/car nonresidents; annual state park passes and senior lifetime passes may be used.
Tips: Trails, especially those along Big Elk Creek, can be quite hilly, wet and muddy in the spring and early summer so waterproof hiking boots are recommended. ◾ Fair Hill NRMA is a major equestrian area and is popular among mountain bikers; horses and bikes will be encountered on trails. ◾ Fair Hill hosts a number of large-scale equestrian events as well as the county fair and Scottish Games, bringing thousands of people into the area. Check the schedule of main events or call the NRMA office. ◾ Fair Hill offers public hunting opportunities. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. ◾ Portable restrooms are available at the Covered Bridge Parking Area, the Appleton Road parking lots, and the Fairgrounds.
Best Seasons: Year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Newark West NW, Newark West NE, Newark West CW, Newark West CE, Newark West SW
Local MOS Chapter: Cecil Bird Club
Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area
300 Tawes Drive, Elkton, Maryland 21921
With 5,656 acres and a wide variety of habitats, Fair Hill NRMA is the crown jewel of birding in Cecil County. Half of all species found in Cecil County have been recorded here. Located in the northeast corner of Cecil, bordering on Pennsylvania and less than a mile west of Delaware, Fair Hill offers expansive areas of grasslands, woodlands, and stream side habitat adjacent to the Big Elk Creek and the headwaters of the Christina River.
One unique aspect of Fair Hill is that it includes two major watersheds: the Big Elk Creek flows into the Elk River, and from there to the Chesapeake Bay, but the Christina River flows east through Delaware to enter the Delaware Bay. More than 80 miles of trails at Fair Hill enable birders to reach all the different habitats.
Fair Hill is the former estate of William du Pont Jr., who bought up smaller farms during the 1930s and put them together to form a place to breed horses and cattle and to engage in one of his favorite sports, fox-chasing. The State of Maryland acquired the property in the 1970s from the heirs of Mr. du Pont. It still retains its agricultural character, and the property is dotted throughout with old farmsteads and ruins of historic buildings. Taking a walk here is like going back in time to the days when open countryside was the norm. The size of Fair Hill is almost unimaginable for this part of the state, and it is rare indeed to find such a large area of relatively natural habitat.
Thanks to Mr. du Pont, Fair Hill possesses a remarkable infrastructure of roads, bridges, and tunnels that carry foot-trails over and under public roadways, ensuring safe passage for hikers, horseback riders, and wildlife. There are multiple parking areas and trail heads throughout Fair Hill NRMA; see the driving directions below as well as the trail map at the link at left. The most popular set of trails for birding are accessed from Parking Lot #2 adjacent to the Covered Bridge and the Fair Hill Nature and Environmental Center., where the trails wind through the stream valley of the Big Elk Creek.
It is worth making multiple trips to explore all the different areas at Fair Hill: each section has its own distinct character, habitats, and sets of birds. There is also great variety in the different seasons of the year, but Fair Hill may be at its best in spring, when songbirds are dripping from the trees and the streams and creeks are running high. Or perhaps it’s best in early summer, when the songs of Veeries, Wood Thrushes, and Scarlet Tanagers ring through the woods; Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds are bouncing through the grasslands; and Willow Flycatchers and Brown Thrashers are singing from the hedgerows and brushy areas. Fall brings migrating raptors kettling overhead, while winter features sparrows and wrens tucked into every sheltered corner.
When exploring, be sure to have a trail map and compass or GPS with you, as the trails are numerous and can be confusing. Fair Hill is just large enough to inconveniently misplace yourself if you are not alert to your whereabouts. A trail map can be downloaded from the link at left, or you can pick one up at the Fair Hill NRMA office, open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm.
Even better, consider navigating Fair Hill’s trails using a free, third-party interactive GPS mapping application such as AllTrails, the Hiking Project, or the Mountain Biking Project. Any of these apps can be downloaded to your smart phone and the app will show your exact location on the built-in trail map. MD DNR also has an online interactive statewide trail map, Maryland’s Trail Atlas, and the Fair Hill Trails within the Atlas are at https://maryland.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=242debcc18ae4057827834b78ddbb83a. The Maryland Trail Atlas is not a dedicated app; it works through a normal web browser and will work on a computer or mobile device.
Fishing, hunting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and picnicking are popular activities at Fair Hill. A section off Route 273 holds the county fairgrounds and a Thoroughbred race horse training center.
Over 150 species have been reported on eBird for Fair Hill NRMA. There are several eBird hotspots for Fair Hill:
- Fair Hill NRMA overall – 153+ species
- Fair Hill NRMA–N. Appleton Rd. parking lot – 115+ species
- Fair Hill NRMA–Northeast Tract – 44+ species (this is an under-birded section and undoubtedly holds far more species)
- Fair Hill NRMA–Covered Bridge and Nature Center area – 86+ species
- Fair Hill NRMA–South area – 109+ species
The birds at Fair Hill often exhibit high population density, supported by the large expanses of habitat.
Spring migration brings flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, tanagers and orioles to the woodlands of Fair Hill. Green Herons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers and waterthrushes can be found along Big Elk Creek and the Christina.
In late spring and early summer, expansive hayfields hold nesting Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Red-winged Blackbirds. The hay here is grown for sale to mushroom farmers in nearby Kennett Square, PA, and is a cash crop that underwrites operations and maintenance at Fair Hill. By agreement with the Cecil Bird Club, the state delays mowing in some of these fields to promote nesting success of the grassland birds.
Regular summer breeders include Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks; Ruby-throated Hummingbird; Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos; Eastern Wood-Pewee; Eastern Phoebe; Eastern Kingbird; Acadian and Willow Flycatchers; White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos; Wood Thrush; Veery; Brown Thrasher; Yellow Warbler; Ovenbird; Kentucky Warbler; Louisiana Waterthrush; Common Yellowthroat; American Redstart; Scarlet Tanager; both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles; Blue Grosbeak; and Indigo Bunting.
Fall migration again has flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, tanagers and orioles passing through Fair Hill NRMA.
Winter at Fair Hill features Chipping, Fox, White-throated and other sparrows as well as overwintering mimids, Hermit Thrushes, and accipiters. A large roost of both Black and Turkey Vultures is present year-round, although the exact location varies from year to year.
Gravel parking areas are available throughout Fair Hill NRMA. See trail map at link at left for locations, as well as Directions below.
For those who are mobility-impaired, it’s possible to bird Fair Hill from the car by slowly driving (windows down) on Black Bridge Road from Appleton Road to the Covered Bridge, and then continuing west on Tawes Drive to the Race Horse Training Center, turning south onto Training Center Drive to exit Fair Hill onto MD Route 273. There is also good birding at the parking areas scattered through Fair Hill. ◾ Fair Hill is the site of a Thoroughbred race track used once a year for races that raise money for Union Hospital in Elkton. Fair Hill hosts international-caliber equestrian events throughout the year. ◾ The Fair Hill Training Center is a separate full-time Thoroughbred training center, with its own track. ◾ The site also hosts the county fair and numerous other large events. ◾ Fair Hill is a popular site for mountain biking, and the Delaware Trail Spinners have done much to maintain and mark the trails at Fair Hill. This club produced the Trail Map Alternate #2 at link at left. ◾ The Fair Hill Nature and Environmental Center, located near the Covered Bridge, offers educational programs for children and families. The Nature Center is a private non-profit organization that work in partnership with MD DNR and the Cecil County public schools. ◾ Fair Hill Nature and Environmental Center is a certified Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Green Center. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Cecil Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
The area near the Covered Bridge is the most popular area for birding.
- To reach Parking Lot #2 at the Covered Bridge: From I-95, take Exit 109 for Route 279 south and proceed south for approximately 2 miles to the intersection with Appleton Road /MD Route 316. Turn right to go north on Appleton Road (Route 316) and drive approximately 6.8 miles (proceeding half-way around the traffic circle at the intersection with MD Route 273) to Black Bridge Road. Turn left onto Black Bridge Road to enter Fair Hill. Parking lot #3 at the Black Bridge Road entrance is handy for birding on foot through the adjacent grasslands, or continue in your car west on Black Bridge Road for another mile to the intersection with Tawes Drive and the Foxcatcher Farm Covered Bridge.Use the parking lot there (designated by MD DNR as Parking Lot #2) for birding the trails on both sides of Big Elk Creek.
- Fair Hill NRMA Office: From the traffic circle at the intersection of MD Route 273 and MD Route 316/Appleton Road, travel west on Route 273 for 2.3 miles to Entrance Road #3. Turn left (south) and make another immediate left to go east on Ranger Skinner Drive for just 400 feet. Turn left to go north on Kennel/Training Center Road, which will take you on a bridge over MD Route 273. Travel one-half mile and turn right on Tawes Drive. The office is located on the right near the corner of Tawes Drive and Training Center Road. You can pick up a trail map here as well as ask questions about event schedules and trail conditions.
Additional parking lots throughout Fair Hill NRMA allow access to other areas; see the trail map at the link at left or use the following directions.. The street addresses are included for GPS navigation, and all are located in Elkton, Maryland.
- Parking Lot #1 (4646 Telegraph Road): From the traffic circle at the intersection of MD Route 273 and MD Route 316/Appleton Road, head west on MD Route 273 for 2.5 miles. The entrance for Parking Lot #1 will be on your right (north side of the road) directly across from the fairgrounds and Entrance Road #2. From here, a rich set of foot-trails lies to the northeast, and another set to the southeast.
- Parking Lot #3 (2941 Appleton Road) (also referenced above in the directions to the Covered Bridge): Also known as the North Appleton Parking Lot. From the traffic circle at the intersection of MD Route 273 and MD Route 316/Appleton Road, continue north on Appleton Road, and drive approximately 1.2 miles to the intersection of Appleton Road and Black Bridge Road. Turn left into Black Bridge Road and the parking lot is right there at entrance. This parking lot is handy for birding the large fields visible in all directions. If you cross Appleton Road, you’re reach a set of foot-trails through the Little Egypt section of Fair Hill, surrounding the Christina (aka Christiana) River. This section is extremely hilly but very rewarding.
- Parking Lot #4 (491 Gallaher Road): Also known as the Gallaher Road Parking Lot. From the traffic circle at the intersection of MD Route 273 and MD Route 316/Appleton Road, drive west on Route 273 for 1.5 miles to the intersection with Gallaher Road. Turn left to go south on Gallaher Road and proceed to the Gallaher Road/Big Elk Chapel intersection in 0.7 miles. The parking lot will be located on your right at the southwest corner of the intersection. Trails from here fan out in all directions, with one productive set starting across Gallaher Road to the east (by the Big Elk Chapel). There is also a trail that goes southwest from the parking area into the Gramies Run watershed. Another set of trails can be reached by walking west on Big Elk Chapel Road for about 600 feet and then walking through a gate on the north side of the road.
- Parking Lot #5 (2000 Appleton Road): Also known as the South Appleton Parking Lot. From the traffic circle at the intersection of MD Route 273 and MD Route 316/Appleton Road, drive south on Appleton Road for approximately 0.7 miles and turn right into the parking lot on the west side of the road. After parking, follow the lane through a hedgerow and gate in a tall fence to reach the trails. The trails here wind through the stream valley on the east side of Big Elk Creek.
Cecil County: Bethel Managed Hunting Area ◾ Bohemia River State Park ◾ Courthouse Point Managed Hunting Area ◾ Elk Neck State Forest ◾ Elk Neck State Park – Turkey Point ◾ Elk River Park & Elkton Marsh ◾ Elkton – Meadow Park, Eder Park, Hatchery Park, & Howard’s Pond ◾ Funk’s Pond Recreation Area & Old Conowingo Area ◾ North East Community Park ◾ Octoraro Creek Trail at Conowingo Park ◾ Perryville Community Park ◾ Port Deposit & Susquehanna River Road Driving Tour ◾Woodlawn Wildlife Area / New Beginnings
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Lawn, Ballfields, Golf CourseStormwater Retention Pond Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsHay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Bird Feeding StationBirding By CarEntry Fee (Daily, All Year)FishingHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingHuntingNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewYoung People / Families
Type:Driving Tour (Roadside Birding)Hunting AreasMAEOE Green CenterNature CentersState Parks